Learning from and with the local Cantonese community: Outreach events with Hong Kong House

According to the 2021 census, Cantonese is one of the most spoken non-official languages in Metro Vancouver, where 150,665 people reported to speak Cantonese at home. This local native speaker population is a great resource for learners of Cantonese. With the goal of connecting UBC students with the Vancouver Cantonese community, UBC Cantonese Language Program partnered with a volunteer collective called Hong Kong House to co-organize a plethora of activities in April and May 2023.

Event poster of the spring campus tour

The first event was a campus tour designed and led by current students of Cantonese courses at various levels, namely CNTO 311 Basic Cantonese for Mandarin Speakers, CNTO 403 Intermediate Cantonese II, and CNTO 451 Advanced Cantonese Through Popular Culture. Prior to the event, each student was required to choose one place of interest in UBC that was meaningful to them. It could be their home department, a beautiful building, a site about First Nations, or their favourite place to eat or study. Students did research about these places and prepared a short speech in Cantonese.

On April 8, 2023, more than 70 UBC students and members of the local Cantonese community gathered at the Asian Centre before heading out to explore the campus. The crowd was divided into three groups, which were joined by Cantonese instructors Dr. Zoe Lam, Raymond Pai, and Psychology lecturer Dr. Benjamin Cheung respectively. Our students introduced various places of interest in Cantonese, which was a great opportunity to put their skills into use. Our curious visitors—many of whom have only landed in Vancouver recently—asked many questions about campus life in a Canadian university and were amazed by the language ability of the students, especially those who had only learned Cantonese for three months. After the tour, everyone returned to the Asian Centre Auditorium for mahjong, karaoke, and other childhood games. The success of this event motivated our second collaboration.

More than 70 students and local friends mingled in the Nest on a rainy day; photo courtesy of Hong Kong House

As one of the many events to celebrate the Asian Heritage Month, the second Vancouver Hong Kong Fair organized by Hong Kong House was held at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster on May 7, 2023. The fair was greeted by thousands of vendors, attendees, and event organizers, representing a wide spectrum of Cantonese and Hong Kong communities in Vancouver. UBC Cantonese Language Program hosted a popular booth that promoted Cantonese and Asian Studies courses to the Vancouver public.

A big thank you to our teaching assistants, Work Learn assistants and volunteers who staffed our booth!

In the fair, Cantonese language instructor Dr. Zoe Lam and Acting Program Director Raymond Pai conducted a total of four workshops that aimed at promoting Cantonese language and culture. Dr. Lam did two demonstrations on effective storytelling for parents who want to provide an immersive Cantonese linguistic environment at home, followed by a workshop on Cantonese legends and idioms. Raymond Pai talked about the status of Cantonese in Canada and offered some tips on teaching Cantonese both at home and in various school settings.

Cantonese instructor Dr. Zoe Lam demonstrating how to engage children through effective storytelling skills; photo courtesy of Hong Kong House

Acting Program Director Raymond Pai explaining what it takes to be a professional Cantonese teacher; photo courtesy of Brandon Fung

The success of the campus tour and workshops at the Vancouver Hong Kong Fair would not have been possible without our community partner Hong Kong House. The collaboration was an invaluable experience for not only our students, but also the wider Cantonese community in Vancouver. We look forward to more opportunities to learn in tandem together in the future.